We all have had a co-worker who seems overly superstitious. Perhaps he had a rabbit’s foot at his desk or a weird habit of navigating the cubicles in a very specific pattern. You might not have thought much of it at the time. But weird habits and rituals can, in some cases, pay off in a big way. It depends on the ritual, and it depends on the person. But if your little routine helps you relax and become more productive, why not?
There are many examples of how strange rituals and habits help propel people to the top of their professions. Many CEOs and celebrities have strange habits, for example. For some, it involves their clothing or diet. For others, it’s in the way they schedule their lives — from work time to sleep.
The key, though, is it works. It works for them. And what works for one person won’t work for everyone.
A new study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes reveals how and why rituals work. The short answer is habits and rituals help us deal with anxiety.
“Using different instantiations of rituals and measures of anxiety (both physiological and self-report), we find that enacting rituals improves performance in public and private performance domains by decreasing anxiety,” the study says. “Belief that a specific series of behaviors constitute a ritual is a critical ingredient to reduce anxiety and improve performance: engaging in behaviors described as a ‘ritual’ improved performance more than engaging in the same behaviors described as ‘random behaviors.'”
In other words, doing that weird thing you do actually does make a difference.
Here are 10 rituals you might want to try to see whether they can help elevate your career.
1. Wear the same thing every day
You might have noticed some successful people — notably Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs — always seemed to wear the same thing every day. For Zuck (see above), he’s almost always wearing a plain gray T-shirt or a zip-up hoodie. Jobs liked jeans and a black turtleneck. The reason? It has to do with “decision fatigue.” By wearing the same thing every single day, they don’t need to worry or spend time thinking about what they’re going to wear.
Give it a shot — but be sure your clothes are clean.
2. Eat the same thing every day
In the same way you can avoid “decision fatigue” when it comes to your wardrobe, you can do the same with your diet. Save yourself some mental resources and have a diet plan in place. The healthier, the better, of course. Instead of worry about cooking, buying food, or whether it’s any good, eat what you always eat. Spend that time chewing on bigger issues. Yes, this can get boring, but give it a shot and see whether it makes a difference.
3. Read obsessively and excessively
Want to develop a new and constructive habit? Do what Warren Buffett does. Read. Read a lot. Bury your nose in books, magazines, articles, whatever. And do it for several hours per day. This is one of the rituals Buffett attributes to his success. As we’ve covered previously, Buffett says he spends as much as 80% of his time reading in some shape or form. This gives him an information advantage, which he has used to amass a huge fortune.
4. Take ice cold showers
If you want to do something truly out of the ordinary, start your day with an ice cold shower. Sound crazy and uncomfortable? It is. But there are numerous benefits. It’ll wake you up and shake out any grogginess, for starters. And you’ll be amazed at how efficiently you can shower (and the amount of time you gain) when you’re going from your toasty bed to a freezing shower. It’s not fun, but for some people, it can make a difference.
5. Get up early
Getting out of bed (with or without a cold shower) is something everybody dreads. But a large number of the world’s most successful people make a habit of getting up early — diabolically early, in some cases. Some people are able to run off a relatively small amount of sleep. Donald Trump, for example, has bragged about it before. Going to bed early is key to getting up early and getting a jump on the day. Do what works for you, but if you like to sleep in, just know there are others who are getting the proverbial worm.
6. Adopt a mantra or chant
When it comes to a ritual or habits that are easy to adopt, having a personal mantra or chant is among the simplest. This is simply the act of having a short saying or phrase you repeat over and over. You might remember Frank Costanza’s “SERENITY NOW!” mantra from Seinfeld — it’s exactly like that. Other people do it, too, such as Leonard Cohen, famously. Give it a shot, and see whether a mantra can calm you down and help you regain focus.
7. Use a checklist
There’s a book out there you should read called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. The premise is simple: A checklist will change your life. It’s an easy habit or ritual to incorporate, too. Just make a checklist of everything you want to accomplish, and reference it throughout the day. Use it as an outline for your day and to keep you on track. You’ll get more done and find fewer things fall through the cracks.
8. Use color to your advantage
You can engage in a bit of psychological warfare in your day-to-day life if you feel the need. Color, for example, says and does a lot more than most of us realize. By wearing certain colors to important meetings or on certain days, you can send a message. You can incorporate this strategy into the plan of wearing the same thing every day. Think about the psychology behind Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck, for example. What was he trying to transmit? Maybe nothing. And maybe that was his intent.
9. Take a timeout
We’re hearing more and more of the world’s most successful people are adopting meditation as a technique for getting through the day. You can think of this as simply taking a time out. Take a nap, or just tune out. You’re going to become fatigued during the day, and getting away from it for even just a few minutes can pay big dividends. Look into meditation as a potential new ritual, or taking a 15-minute power nap.
10. Physically deplete yourself — at lunch
A habit that’s good for your brain and your body? Working out. But how about working out in the middle of the day? Some people find it’s a good way to clear their heads and to put things into perspective. When you’re doing skull crushers, for example, suddenly creating Pivot Tables in Excel sounds pretty fun. The research shows exercise can help your cognition and energy levels — two things that should help you do better on a daily basis at work.